Melatonin sales stayed relatively slow until April, 1995, when this book, the first in the country on this topic, was published. A segment on Dateline: NBC in July, followed by my interview on the national television show A Current Affair, encouraged tens of thousands of people to buy melatonin. The melatonin phenomenon had started. Then it really exploded.
The August 7th issue of Newsweek was mostly responsible for accelerating the melatonin mania. The enthusiastic article by Geoffrey Cowley and Jamie Reno exposed millions of Americans to an otherwise little-known supplement. Health food stores copied the article and handed it out to their customers.
Shortly thereafter, on August 14th, a feature article on melatonin by Sandra Jacobs appeared in the Miami Herald, and was syndicated nationwide, appearing in dozens of major newspapers. Women's/science/health magazines decided to ride the wave and published their own articles. Producers of radio and television shows rushed frantically to find melatonin experts and critics to answer questions and concerns voiced by new melatonin users. Countless people who had hardly noticed the existence of their local health food store crossed its threshold for the first time curiously asking the manager, "Is it all true? Is melatonin really the wonder hormone?"
But even before the melatonin mania had started, major health newsletters from universities had already formed their opinions.
The Johns Hopkins Health After 50 newsletter had an article in its February, 1995, issue, titled Melatonin: Sleep Aid of the Future? Their conclusion was, "The research to date on melatonin is encouraging, but it is still too early to consider taking the hormone for sleep disturbances…However, there is no doubt that melatonin plays a role in controlling the sleep/wake cycle, and it is even possible that melatonin will become a useful agent for sleep therapy in the future."
The University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter, in its April, 1995, issue, informed, "So far, at least, there have been no reports of melatonin causing any serious side effects." But the article continued in a tone surprisingly biased. The authors mentioned their concern that supplements sold in health food stores are unregulated and potential contamination can occur. This is true, yet even medicines approved by the FDA have in some cases been found to be contaminated, or have serious health risks. The food we eat can be contaminated. The Agriculture Department estimates 5 million cases of illness and more than 4,000 deaths may be associated with meat and poultry products each year (Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1995). As far as I know, neither of the above two medical establishments has discouraged the public from buying vitamins and minerals over the counter for fear of contamination. In fact, the Berkeley Wellness Letter encourages the public to take vitamins C and E, and calcium supplements. Nor have these institutions discouraged the public from eating chicken. Why raise the contamination issue expressly with melatonin and unnecessarily alarm the public? Having advanced this concern, the authors try to further scare the reader, "Human hormones are powerful substances and can produce unexpected results in long-term use, or even in single large doses." This statement is also true of aspirin, estrogen, prescription sleeping pills, and practically every medicine. Having raised these panic-provoking objections, and with no solid clinical or scientific reasoning to back up their position, the authors conclude, "Don't be a guinea pig. At present we do not recommend that you take it."